Interview with Wang Xuedian: Many of the most active scholars in the field of historiography have historical theoretical backgrounds, which is very strange.

2020-07-02 | By Historian | Filed in: District.

Wang Xuedian: Why Does Historical Research Need “Theory”?

-Talking about Scholarship with Young Students

“Theory” has become a fearful topic in the field of historiography in recent decades. Some people even regard it as a plague and avoid it. Some people often show how “pure” and “academic” their knowledge is through “teasing” and “theory”. This may be due to the pendulum effect in learning, and it is a rebound and revenge on the dominance of “theory” in the world in the past few decades. However, as the old saying goes, too much is better than too much, and disregard for “theory” has affected the normal development of learning. In view of this situation, this article wants to sail against the current and talk about the role of “theoretical tools” in the study of academic history. Due to the above-mentioned reasons, so far there seems to be no special article discussing and studying what as a “theory” in the academic circle. However, it should be noted that today’s exchange with you is mainly some temporary ideas and has not formed a systematic, complete and in-depth opinion.

First, the figure of Ganjia and the proposal of “the relationship between history and theory”

Let me first talk to you about the relationship between “history” and “theory” in the history of historiography as a foreshadowing. Chinese history in the 20th century is based on the “Ganjia School”. It is extremely important to recognize this point. In the academic history of China, there was a confrontation between Sinology and Song Studies due to the differences in the number of ways and the objects of thinking. For example, Sinology emphasized the “Five Classics” and Song Studies worshipped the “Four Books” and so on, forming different academic schools, which was the “dispute between Han and Song Dynasties”. The two schools have coexisted for a long time since the Song Dynasty, and each has its own way. The differences and conflicts are obvious. In the Qing Dynasty, Ganjia Sinology replaced Cheng Zhu’s Neo-Confucianism to occupy the mainstream of the academic circle, which formed the basis of the evolution of historiography in the 20th century. Liang Qichao’s “An Introduction to Academic Studies in Qing Dynasty” has made a very full exposition of Ganjia Sinology, which has a great influence on the whole Chinese history in the 20th century.

When I was studying for undergraduate and graduate students, the academic circle had the slogan of “Return to Ganjia”. We are shrouded in the shadow of Ganjia Sinology and have not completely walked out until now. Today’s so-called “revival of Chinese studies” is not substantially different from “Ganjia Sinology”. This is an important aspect that we should pay special attention to when examining the academic history, ideological history and historical theory of the 20th century.

In fact, historiography in the 20th century has two origins. First, it evolved from Ganjia Sinology. The academic research of Mr. Gu Jiegang and others evolved slowly under the nourishment of Ganjia Sinology in their early years. Later, they became the well-known school of ancient history discrimination. Later, they came to some forms we see now. This is a route from classics to history. Second, it spread directly from abroad, that is, it was successively introduced from Japan, France, Germany, the Soviet Union and the United States.

I call this path, which was the mainstream in the early 20th century and evolved from Ganjia Sinology, including Mr. Gu Jiegang, “New Sinology”. Another path of history management that is spread from the West and learned from the West is called “New Historiography”. “New Historiography” and “New Sinology” are a pair of conceptual tools that I used to clean up the history of historiography in the first half of the 20th century.

This school, which evolved from Ganjia Sinology, or the tendency and atmosphere of governing history, occupied the mainstream position after entering the 20th century, especially before and after the May 4th Movement. It reached its peak in the late 1920s and swept the three circles of literature, history and philosophy until the early 1930s. Because its academic foundation is too strong, many people find it difficult to get out of it.

The reason why those historians in the 20th century were able to make a leisurely transition was related to the classification of modern western academic studies. Western modern academic classification divides complete knowledge into Chinese, history, philosophy, political science, law, etc. The traditional classification in China is the classification of libraries, that is, the so-called classification of knowledge-classics, history, children and collections. There is only one discipline that can be directly connected between modern western academic classification and traditional Chinese academic classification, namely history. There is “history” in the “subset of classics and history” and the western academic classification in the 20th century has the category of history, so most scholars who govern history can easily enter the western modern academic classification and modern discipline system.

However, other categories are not easy to correspond to modern academic classification. The collection department is a collection of articles, many of which are personal collections, with numerous and jumbled contents and not entirely literature. It is not necessarily the case to correspond the sub-part to the history of thought. The meridian is even more complicated. Therefore, people who govern other knowledge must undergo a series of transformation, adjustment and transformation in order to live in the western modern academic classification. But before the adjustment has been completed, the academic situation has changed greatly and there is no time to adjust.

Mr. Ge Maochun, a former teacher, once said that the most developed science in the 20th century was history. He said that philosophy, we can only find Mr. Jin Yuelin or some other very few people, such as Mr. Feng Youlan, is strictly history, and the history of Chinese philosophy is history. Literature history is also history, including Mr. Xiao Difei, who studies literature history. The academic achievements of literature and philosophy in the 20th century are far less than those of history. The core lies in the fact that history has gone straight from the traditional academic classification to the academic classification in the 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, “New Historiography” has been put forward, but the influence of Ganjia Sinology, such as historical methods and academic concepts, is deeply rooted, and many old gentlemen, including Mr. Zhang Taiyan, are difficult to get out of it. There are very few people like Mr. Wang Guowei who have been trained in Western learning. Most of them have only acquired some superficial knowledge of Western learning. In their bones, they are still traditional Chinese learning and Ganjia Sinology. One of the research programs of Ganjia Sinology is to seek truth from facts. Starting from materials, according to Qian Daxin, it is not to comment. He said that he should not comment on scholarly research and history, but only clear up the facts. However, we now look at the discipline attribute of Ganjia Sinology, which is the 20th century’s Sinology and Sinology. From the perspective of discipline division in the 20th century, if we find a discipline attribute for it, we can completely put it within the discipline scope of philology. Ganjia Sinology is philology, historical philology in the history department and Chinese classical philology in the Chinese department. The subject attribute of New Sinology, or historical materials school, in the 20th century is basically within the category of philology, including today’s Sinology. Most of the Chinese studies are philology. Why did the prosper of Chinese studies lead to the development of the collation and collation of ancient books, because this is determined by its subject attribute and academic nature. This is a big problem.

Therefore, the research program of Ganjia Sinology still dominated, dominated and dominated in the early 20th century. Everyone’s idea is still the same. Its program is the so-called seeking truth from facts, starting from the literature, textual research and exegesis word by word. This is a set of ancient philology homework.

However, the difference occurred here in Li Dazhao, and others including Mr. Liang Qichao and others were not obvious. Li Dazhao clearly pointed out in “Essentials of Historiography” that textual research is not the ultimate goal of history, but only a means. Li Dazhao pointed out in particular that history has two tasks, one is to discover the facts, the other is to explain the facts, and explaining the facts is extremely important. Although Li Dazhao is regarded as a pioneer of Marxist historians, his position in the history of Marxist historiography has not been fully affirmed so far. Most people trace the orthodoxy of Marxist historiography and historical materialism to Guo Moruo and rarely to Li Dazhao. This situation is very problematic.

Starting from Li Dazhao, a research route different from New Sinology has emerged, focusing on the interpretation of history and the role of theories, concepts and concepts, which has never been seen before. Of course, some textbooks imported from Japan already have similar things, but it is an explanation based on a large number of examples in Chinese history, and the expression is not clear. Starting from Li Dazhao, historical materialism was born. The banner held high by the materialist conception of history is Marxism, historical materialism and five modes of production, which we will cover later.

Starting from Li Dazhao, Guo Moruo, Fan Wenlan and others evolved later. In the future, the division between the administration of history has become very obvious when one faction raises the theory and the other emphasizes historical materials. Therefore, Jian Bozan concluded in his works that without theory, historical materials are waste. He made it very clear and showed contempt for the historical school. Of course, both parties are interested in the elements of the dispute when confronting each other. The historical materials school despises the historical materialism school and thinks it is empty theory and empty history. The historical materialism school looked down on the historical materials school and laughed at it as a “four-legged bookcase”.

These two historical routes have been confronting each other either implicitly or in situ since Li Dazhao’s time. However, the confrontation between historical materials and historical theories-either emphasizing historical materials, or emphasizing theories, or a combination of the two and a balance between the two-was originally a very specific thing, and there was nothing to be done. The problem is that those who emphasize theory place more emphasis on Marxist theory, which became ideology after 1949. Therefore, the debate between history and theory has more or less ideological attributes. These people who emphasize historical materials are regarded by Marxists as rejecting the guidance of Marxism. Strictly speaking, in the dividing line of reality, Marxists believe that those who emphasize historical materials are in another camp. Therefore, if the difference between pure historical materials and theories, Simply emphasizing this side or the other side has no ideological attribute at all, at least it is not very obvious. However, because “On” has been limited to the scope of Marxist theory within this period of time, this debate has an ideological nature and has become very sharp, sensitive and noticeable.

In 1949, the revolution of the Communist Party of China, the social cause of historical materialism, was a success. Jian Bozan, Fan Wenlan and others suddenly became the masters of historiography. Mr. Chen Yinque and others were forced to move southward. A book called “Crossing the South and Returning to the North” recorded these problems. Since the social movement carried out by the historical materialism school has been successful, the historical materialism school has naturally become the leader of the academic circle. The so-called “Five Elders in the Historical Circle”-Guo Moruo, Fan Wenlan, Jian Bozan, Lv Zhenyu and Hou Wailu-have become the highest authority in the historical circle. The historical data textual research school has bowed its head for a period of time.

However, when the tendency of historical materialism to despise materials reached its peak and exceeded a certain limit, the historical data textual research school came out again. In this debate, one faction took “taking history with theory” as its banner, while the other faction took “taking history with theory” as its banner, thus the struggle began. This struggle is still hidden or hidden to this day. In the view of this school of scholars who place special emphasis on historical materials, the rejection theory has the meaning of rejecting Marxism. In the view of Marxists, too much emphasis on historical materials is to get rid of the guidance of Marxism. Today’s historians still have more or less such ideological tendencies.

From 1949 to 1979, “taking history with theory” dominated. From 1979 to now, “On Coming from History” has occupied the mainstream position. My article “From Reflecting on Cultural Revolution Historiography to Reflecting on Reform Historiography” discusses this issue. Before the “Cultural Revolution”, the “Theory” was emphasized to an incomparable level, while after the “Cultural Revolution”, the “Theory” was belittled to an incomparable level. Today we are still in the stage of belittling the “Theory” to an extent beyond comparison. The main purpose of my proposal to reflect on history after the “Cultural Revolution”, that is, since the reform and opening up, is to rebalance some historical relations like the subtitle of my article.

Second, what is a theory related to history.

Next, I will enter the theme and talk about three main issues in three parts: Is what a theory, including what a historical theory? Why does historical research need theory? Does theory play a what role in historical research?

Let’s talk about the first question first.

The so-called theory, in my opinion, is a hypothesis or explanation of those historical phenomena or relatively important historical events with universality, overall situation, macro, structure and generality. The theory we usually call has these prescriptions. The opposite side of the regulations here is experience, facts, details, parts, individuals, phenomena, etc. In other words, all theories must be a statement and some regulations on universality.

For example, the theory of historical materialism, that is, the historical theory of Marxism, is definitely not aimed at individual facts or facts of a certain social form. According to what we now say, it is aimed at something common in human history. It puts forward a set of assumptions: productivity, relations of production, economic foundation, superstructure, laws of human history, and evolution of social forms. So far, there is no other theory that can replace Marx, which is the main reason why Marx ranked first in the British Millennium Thinker Selection a few years ago. In the West, Marx’s historical theory and Marx himself have entered the mainstream classroom and have been recognized by everyone. Marx’s theoretical system has been recognized as a science in the world.

Since its birth in the 19th century, Marxism has become a watershed in almost all theories. Almost all the later theories can be divided into those in favor of Marx’s theory or those against Marx’s theory. Among the theories against Marx, the most famous is Max Weber’s theory. He believed that the driving force of historical development depends on some spiritual factors, while Marx put economic factors and material factors in the ultimate position of the historical development chain among the many factors of historical development. This is obvious in Max Weber’s Protestant Ethics and Capitalist Spirit. This book is very typical, although he does not quote Marx in a word. Many famous western thinkers have targeted Marx everywhere, and so far.

Theory, it has some abstract, macro and overall characteristics. It’s just a specific explanation. That’s not what’s big theory. Of course, there are still many theories, including long-term theory and medium-term theory, which may be covered below.

We can also look at the theory from another angle. The theory may also be a special perspective to observe history or study historical interpretation. There are many theories, and each theory has its own orientation. Each theoretical orientation or each theory itself is only prompting researchers where to start to pursue answers and explain. As mentioned above, Max Weber started with spirit and religious differences. He believes that the reason why China cannot produce capitalism is that there are many intermediary links between Chinese Confucianism and the spirit of capitalism and they cannot be directly connected, so he talks about Confucianism and Taoism. Max Weber’s book Confucianism and Taoism focuses on this issue. He said that there is no such spiritual soil for capitalism in China as a whole. This is true of every theory, suggesting from a certain angle where researchers should start to provide an explanation of history.

The theory itself cannot be intuitive, and all theories cannot be confirmed, including historical materialism. We can only put forward one assumption. Theories cannot be intuitive, observed or experimented, especially in social sciences. All theories cannot be called truth in the end. The possibility of being overturned is greater than the possibility of being proved.

People cannot rely too much on a certain theory when explaining history. Because too much reliance on one theory will obscure the discovery of other possibilities. The concepts and terms I put forward, such as historical materials school and historical view school, new historiography and new sinology, should not rely too much on when studying this period of history. Relying too much on those views of the new historiography, some things that should be seen may not be seen and many things will be covered up. Everyone must be on guard. A theory is only the starting point for research, not the point for conclusion. You do not want to prove it. Including myself, I don’t like the papers written by students from the bottom of my heart if I use new historiography and new sinology as models everywhere. However, I hope he can start from this angle and use it as the initial preset to come up with some new things as much as possible. If he can revise my opinion and my concept, it is best.

We must not rely too much on certain concepts or theories. The mistake we made in the past on the issue of Marxism was to rely too much on and exclude other things. We should avoid making certain concepts, certain theoretical forms and certain theoretical theories absolute truth. Theory is very important. We cannot engage in historical research without theory, but theory is also harmful. It is a double-edged sword. However, as long as it is used carefully, theory will provide you with far more help than other things.

In order to thoroughly explain that what is a theory, I will make another statement from the perspective of the relationship between theory and thought.

What is thought? What is theory? Mr. Chen Qineng, former editor-in-chief of Historical Theory, once said on an occasion, “Wang Xuedian is a thoughtful person”. He never said that Wang Xuedian was a theoretical person. There is a problem here: theory and thought are what relations, and there are what differences between them?

In my opinion, the so-called thought usually refers to what an individual has obtained by thinking alone, or a special kind of thinking with unique personal color and individual nature, an independent kind of thinking with personality color that others cannot repeat. Whether a person has thoughts or not is whether a person has thought about something he has gained alone.

Is there a what relationship between theory and thought? According to my own combing and consideration of this problem, the relationship between theory and thought lies in: theory is the advanced form of thought, a higher abstract form, or the formalization and shell of thought. When we say that a certain idea is a theory, it must be something that goes beyond ordinary independent thinking and is finally solidified and formalized into some dogma. Therefore, I think all theories have some dogmatic attribute, and historical materialism is no exception. Theory always has the nature of a certain dogma and a certain model. All theories are models, and a theory is a model. And thought is a non-solidified thing, we will produce thought anytime and anywhere. From this, we can draw a conclusion: theories can be shared and thoughts cannot be shared. We can all engage in research under the guidance of a common theory, including historical materialism, but thoughts cannot be shared simultaneously because it has a unique and very strong individual nature.

At the same time, all theories, including Marxist theory, are originally thoughts, or the core of theories is thoughts. Many of Marx’s things were as his personal thoughts in his time and at the beginning of the process of his theory. It was finally solidified, formalized, shelled, modeled and dogmatic, and became a theory. I think the original source of all theories is thought, and all profound and systematic thoughts or thoughts that can be accepted by most people are theorized and dogmatic, which is its inevitable fate.

To say that this scholar is an ideological scholar means that this scholar must be a scholar with unique thinking habits. A paper, take a look, if it is basically a modern “eight-part essay”, you will know that this person is not thinking. Such articles account for the majority, including those in the magazine Wen Shi Zhe. Although Wen Shi Zhe magazine is very strict in reviewing manuscripts in all aspects, there are very few manuscripts that dare to say they have thoughts or can reflect how much effort the author has spent on thinking. It is enough for the author to be self-consistent in point of view, complete in logic, able to explain the problem, and aware of the problem.

Why is it difficult to write theoretical things, because from the perspective of materials to the perspective of ideas, materials must be internalized, not followed by materials, many things must be abstracted, and this thing itself has logic, from the statement of problems to the solution of problems to the support of arguments. My article on the rise and fall of liberal arts in Shandong University, “the high combination of learning and ideology”, It can be said to be the product of an idea. In this article, I don’t even have a list of materials, nor do I need to list materials. You can’t soak them in the archives for 3 years. Those things are not automatically put forward from the materials, but if you say that my thing is groundless, then no one will believe it. Why? Because it conforms to a large number of empirical observations and has individual thoughts. Thoughts cannot be shared. No one can share your thoughts with you at the same time, except yourself. And it can be said that if you don’t think, others won’t think to your extent. If you don’t study this problem, academia may not have such results. From the perspective of democratic thinking, why do we want to protect thinking, why do we want a hundred schools of thought to contend, why do we want freedom of thought and speech, especially to protect freedom of thought, is because all thinking has a unique nature, all thinking has to challenge, do not recognize what is ready-made, and all thinking will be beneficial to this society.

In class, I always stressed that everyone must always have questions in their minds. When you wake up and cannot sleep, the questions will slowly come to your mind and you must seek answers. On a business trip abroad, I thought about a question as soon as I arrived in Thailand. Why did countries around China, such as Thailand, have a very low level of development but successfully accepted the modern system arrangement and turned around without major twists and turns or resistance? I can’t understand. The same is true when I arrive in Singapore. I have been thinking about this problem for a long time, and only recently have I come to a very big conclusion. I think this conclusion will be a slightly larger view if it continues to develop. At last, I thought clearly about such a question: one of our deepest ties with our country is the connection of property. I have land, I have factories, and I have things that are constitutionally protected and cannot be violated by others. If I have no land, no factory buildings, no houses and other properties belonging to me, then the connection between me and the government will become very weak, just like a duckweed, it doesn’t matter where I go. Why has this something to do with Thailand’s development into capitalist countries and acceptance of capitalist ideas? People from all ethnic groups and regions outside China have a very strong concept of private ownership. No one can invade it and the emperor cannot enter my home. This private ownership is a kind of thing rooted in human nature for thousands of years, and liberalism places more emphasis on the protection of private property than all previous ideas, so it has successfully made many countries and regions accept it. Liberalism believes in the order of natural spontaneous evolution and believes that from the natural state to the so-called liberal state, it is evolving itself, not human intervention.

The brain must be filled with many problems. As long as you think, you will definitely get something. These small ideas will be deposited into your paper. When others see your paper, the spark of your thoughts will illuminate another person, who will continue along your thoughts. At present, among the master’s theses, including doctoral theses, thoughtful theses are rare, and it is difficult for everyone to meet this requirement.

So the concept is what? Ideas develop first into theories and then into concepts. A concept is a higher level of abstraction of a theory. If a big theory can be abstracted, alcoholized and refined into a concept, the contribution may be even greater. Ideas, theories and concepts are ladder-like. Although they belong to the same category, the concepts are more abstract. Ideas, theories and doctrines are gradually sublimated. For example, Marxism is abstracted and transformed from the elimination of private ownership and other ideological theories.

This is the first point I will tell you. What is the difference between theory, theory and thought, and the difference between theory and concept. These are some of my simple ideas. I think ideas can be produced anytime and anywhere, but theories cannot. All theories have dogmatic attributes and all theories are models. Economics places special emphasis on theoretical models. Historical materialism is a model. The theories of five modes of production are a model. Slave society, feudal society, capitalist society and future socialist society are all models. The model can easily lead you to a certain research field, but you must get out of the model in the end.

Third, history needs theoretical basis

Why does history need theory? Because history needs to be explained.

Li Dazhao said in “Essentials of Historiography” that historians have two functions, one is to discover facts and the other is to explain facts. All historians at home and abroad admit that it is the duty of historians to discover and explain facts. Including the great historian Rank, he also explained the facts, saying only that his facts were criticized and examined. The difference between him and other historians is that his examination has his special procedures. The key is that any explanation needs theory as the basis, and explanation without theoretical basis is impossible. This basis is either clear or common sense, and the key is that the vast majority of historians explain it according to popular common sense. Chinese traditional historiography has failed to develop its own system in historical interpretation, which is quite different from the historical tradition of ancient Greece and Rome. People look at Herodotus’s “History” and Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War”. The West is relatively clear and conscious on this point.

Therefore, history needs explanation, and explanation needs theory, which is the whole basis of history needs theory. Of course, not all historical studies need theories. Examining historical facts, clearing up a fact in a large number of records, and exploring the truth of history from contradictory statements may not require theory. When you are faced with confirming a single fact, you can still do well without theory. This is why Ganjia School has no theory and rejects theory, but it can still make great achievements. Cleaning up documents, cleaning up facts, examining documents and examining versions require experience, not theory. I specifically talked about this issue in my article “Chinese History in the past 50 Years”. But when you face the “process” and when you face the “structure”, you must need theory. Because the so-called process and structure are the connections between many facts, how to confirm these connections must rely on theory. The primary task of history is to accurately describe the past, but accurately describing the past is not the ultimate requirement of history. Accurate description of past facts is the first task of historians, but it is not the whole task of history. The ultimate task of history is to explain the past, which requires theory. It should be emphasized that the discovery of certain facts must still rely on theory.

I once ordered Chen Feng to write an article, “Historical Materialism and Research on Chinese Iron in the 20th Century”, which was published in the magazine Historical Research. I said that the discovery of ironware is the most important discovery, but ironware is only a kind of artifact or cultural relic in the works of Ganjia School, which is within the scope of epigraphy. They have not found what from it. The understanding of the role of iron and the revolutionary role of iron in history can only be obtained under the guidance of historical materialism. Therefore, without the introduction of historical materialism in the 20th century, we would not have found the role of iron in history and could not have explained the profound changes that took place during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. Therefore, without theory, some facts are difficult to find. Without the theory of historical materialism and the concept of productive forces, it is impossible to find that ironware has played such an important role in history. From the discovery of iron, you will see the role of tools in history. Marx made it very clear that he said that the water mill produced a society headed by feudal lords, while the steam mill produced a society headed by capitalists. It fully illustrates the role of certain tools and technologies in history. The discovery of technology, then the discovery of electricity, the discovery of energy, and the discovery of these facts are very difficult without the theoretical support of productivity. To what extent will the invention of mobile phones, computers and computers change our lives? The effect is immeasurable. Robot chess players have defeated all human beings. From the changes we have seen today in the social outlook and the shaping of the way of life, we can infer the role played by the emergence of iron tools in those days. The most significant change that took place during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period was the increase in productivity brought about by the wide use of ironware. Land that could not have been reclaimed could be reclaimed. Debates on issues such as the division of ancient history are all based on this foundation.

Therefore, the discovery of some key facts cannot be separated from theory, although the discovery of a large number of facts cannot be separated from theory. For example, Mozi’s birth and death years are based on the literature. There is no literature and there is no way to do it. If there are a lot of materials in the literature, a fact that is relatively acceptable to everyone can be cleared from a lot of discussions. I dare not say whether it is really like this, but I can only say that it is like this according to historical records. It is impossible to guess the existence of a certain thing without evidence. Just like deciding a case, it is assumed that this person is a criminal. Intuition tells us that he is a criminal, but if there is no evidence, he must be released immediately. On the contrary, if there is enough evidence, it can be confirmed. From evidence to facts, and then restore. This is not the case with historical explanations. When will Qin Shihuang unify China? No theory is needed. However, to explain why Qin Shihuang was able to unify China, one must rely on some theory. Why Confucianism came into being and why it can become the mainstream ideology in China also needs to be explained according to some theories. Problems like these are the needs of the public, including all social strata, for history. Historical interpretation is based to a considerable extent on these needs. Without theory, any explanation cannot be carried out, including Max Weber’s spirit of religious capitalism. Why capitalism came into being in Europe and in places like Italy cannot be explained without theory. Of course, Max Weber has found a lot. In this area, the behavior of these people has some common characteristics. However, these common characteristics can explain the what problem, which still needs to be explained, and all explanations need to be based on theory, including a large number of examples in our real life. Just now, I cited some similar examples. For example, why did the Ganjia School occupy the mainstream position in the Qing Dynasty? Why did Neo-Confucianism come into being in the Song Dynasty? Why does China have a unified situation and split again and again? Why can the ethnic minorities in or around the north occupy the Central Plains within a period of time and finally be assimilated by the Han nationality? When the Manchu invaded the Central Plains, there were a large number of Manchu people, but now the number of Manchu people among all ethnic minorities is not the largest. Why? They have been assimilated by the Han people in the Central Plains. Why? This all needs to be explained. History without explanation cannot stand up. “History is what? Carl, author of the book, made it very clear that unexplained facts are like a bag of potatoes that cannot stand up. Potatoes are scattered. Only explanation can establish a connection between potatoes. Then potatoes become a pillar and it stands up. If you give it a backbone, it will take shape, integrate and become a chain of cause and effect. This backbone is the explanation and its theory.

Personally, I don’t have a very clear and definite summary of this question, so I can’t tell you more. This second question will be answered here, that is, why history needs theory.

When I calmed down in the previous stage, I thought about a question.It is strange that many of the most active scholars in the field of historiography have historical theoretical backgrounds.Why historical research needs theory is also one of the bases. For example, Chen Chunsheng and I were both compilers of an introduction to history textbook by the Ministry of Education, Zhao Shiyu was also one of the compilers of our introduction to history textbook, and Li Zhenhong was also the editor of this textbook. They were all my old friends. Among the older generation, like Mr. Liu Zehua and now the Liu Zehua School, they are engaged in the history of political thought. However, Mr. Jiang Yihua of Shanghai has long served as the president of the Shanghai Historical Society and the vice-chairman of the Shanghai Association of Social Sciences. These scholars are very active. It is no accident that they are representative in academia. The success of these scholars tells us thatDon’t plunge into a dry well in your research, so it will be difficult to turn around. Profound theoretical literacy will actually give you a huge room to move, otherwise you cannot move. I hope everyone can consider this issue.

Our history discipline has two tasks, one is to clean up the facts and the other is to explain the facts. If we do not explain the facts under the guidance of a conscious theory, we can only explain the facts according to common sense, and most of them are absurd common sense, very bad common sense, and there are few books without explanation.

Fourth, the role of theory in historical research

All macro research, process research, structure research and problem research cannot be separated from a specific theory, regardless of the quality of the theory itself. All research on answering questions cannot be separated from theory.

Let’s look at the role of theory through some examples, the role of theory as an analysis tool, and the role of theory as a conceptual tool. In recent decades, the theory that has the greatest influence on historians is the theory of five modes of production. The theory of five modes of production is a model and has great influence after 1949. Although it is now recognized that “there were slaves in Chinese history, but there was no such social form as slavery”, the question of the stages of slavery and feudalism still played an immeasurable role in the clean-up of ancient Chinese society, especially in the pre-Qin, Han, Wei and Jin Dynasties. I have a short article entitled “False Problems” and “True Learning”: Some Thoughts on China’s Social Form “, which talks about that because there is no slavery, there can be no stages of slavery and feudalism. The so-called issue of ancient history staging is actually a false issue, but it has achieved real and huge research results. The introduction of the concept of slavery, the raising of the question of when slavery and feudalism will be divided into stages, and the great amount of energy invested by the academic community under this issue, its promotion to the academic history itself is incalculable. The reason why the pre-Qin and Qin and Han societies have been cleaned up so thoroughly is that they are the center of this great debate. The social disintegration and transition at the turn of the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period is the center of this great debate. Including the sprouting of capitalism, now the academic circles generally believe that what was originally considered to be the sprouting of capitalism does not have the nature of capitalism at all. This question is based on the assertion that China will enter capitalism sooner or later. Sooner or later, China will enter capitalism, based on another theoretical logic, that is, the five modes of production are unavoidable. This theory is one by one, so although what was considered to be the bud of capitalism in those days is considered to have nothing to do with capitalism today, it proves to be related to commodity economy.

Commerce in Chinese history has been seriously underestimated. The Chinese nation is a nation with outstanding talent for doing business. How high is the talent of the Chinese nation for doing business? It can only be suppressed by the so-called feudal dynasty of 2,000 years, which used the national policy of emphasizing agriculture and suppressing commerce. Commerce and markets bring instability everywhere, the most stable being agriculture. In order to maintain the long-term stability of this society and the so-called stability, commerce must be suppressed. All dynasties have made it an important national policy to emphasize agriculture and suppress commerce. Businessmen’s status is very low. Since the Han Dynasty, the “Records of the Historian” and “History of the Han Dynasty” have been clearly separated. Since our reform and opening up in the past 30 years, we have only relaxed the policy of emphasizing agriculture and suppressing commerce a little, and the Chinese people have immediately spread all over the world. When I went to Germany for a meeting in 2006, I found that there were Chinese on almost every bus. In the past 40 years, we have only slightly relaxed the policy of emphasizing agriculture and suppressing commerce. China’s commerce has taken off like Dapeng spreading its wings. I often make an analogy. China’s business is like Sun Wukong. Before Tang Priest found him, he was pinned down by the mountain to prevent him from jumping out. Deng Xiaoping loosened the mountain and Sun Monkey jumped out. This is one of the secrets of China’s economic take-off in the past 40 years.

Such a developed Chinese industry and commerce does not have the nature and elements of capitalism in the West, nor will it spontaneously develop into that society, so Chinese society is a very unique society. In spite of this, the concept of budding capitalism still played a great role in promoting the study of economic history in Ming and Qing Dynasties. Western scholars, including Mr. Yu Yingshi, did not deny the role of the concept of “budding capitalism” in the Ming and Qing Dynasties’ industry and commerce and the Ming and Qing Dynasties’ social history research. Without this concept, there would be no research situation in the history of Ming and Qing Dynasties today. In addition, the same is true of Marxist concepts such as productivity, relations of production, economic foundation and “Asian mode of production”. Marx defined European society as feudal society, slave society and capitalist society, but he found that from India to Asia is another society completely different from the West. Of course, he is based on the records and reports of Western missionaries. From this Marx came to a conclusion: the general lack of private ownership of land is the most essential feature of eastern society. Although this conclusion is not suitable for China, it is suitable for India, especially for Russia. Its communes are, we say, remnants of rural communes, which disintegrated in China as early as the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. Marx believed that the eastern society was special, including the Chinese society, but he could not find a suitable concept, so he had to use a regional concept called “Asian mode of production”, that is, the eastern mode of production, or the eastern social form. We all look at the concept of Asian mode of production, which essentially reflects respect for the eastern society and the unique road that the eastern history has taken. It comes down in one continuous line with what we call Chinese characteristics today. Therefore, the discussion on the Asian mode of production and the explanation of the particularity of China’s historical development and social development have laid a solid foundation for today’s Chinese characteristics. Although this concept is a regional concept, it is not a concept of nature. Unlike feudal society, slave society and capitalist society, it is a concept of nature. This is purely a regional concept, but it still plays a great role in the study of ancient Chinese history. This is the role played by some Marxist concepts.

So far, Engels’ “Origin of Family, Private Ownership and State” (hereinafter referred to as “Origin”) is the most influential theoretical work in the field of Chinese history. It can be said that without “Origin”, there would be no thorough study of China’s ancient history today. The concepts of “matriarchal clan society” and “patrilineal clan society” have made it meaningful to explain the materials that have always been regarded as absurd and nonsense, such as “the people know their mother but do not know their father”. In addition, the concepts of Stone Age, Wooden Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, as well as the concepts of ignorance, barbarism and civilization, have made ancient Chinese society understandable. Without the anthropological work Origin, we would not have been able to clean up a “primitive society in China” from ancient myths and legends. How important is the theory? The study of ancient Chinese society can be said to provide the best example!

In addition, Mr. Fei Xiaotong put forward a pair of concepts. He said that “local society” is an “acquaintance society” and “urban society” is a “stranger”.The stranger society “. The two concepts of acquaintance society and stranger society are very important conceptual and theoretical tools for us to analyze cities and villages. Through these two concepts, we can quickly grasp the differences between the two societies. Since it is a society of strangers, how to manage these strangers? The problem of the rule of law arises, and the problem of the system arises. Since it is an acquaintance society, based on mutual trust, moral and ethical problems arise. Of course, there are more differences between urban and rural societies, but these two concepts are enough to make you see these two societies clearly, thus drawing other logical inferences based on them. It is suggested that you have time to look at Mr. Fei Xiaotong’s “Local China”, which is very useful. It can not only explain the society in which we used to live, but also bring inspiration to other disciplines.

In addition, like Mr. Chen Yinque, he is completely different from other people who simply sort out materials. He is an ambitious person. He has a set of conceptual tools for his research, which others do not have. Family, family, culture and marriage are his four major tools for doing scholarly research. He explained that the Tang Dynasty society and the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties were able to do well because it was generally believed that by the Song Dynasty, Chinese society had already sprouted the so-called modern society, and the Tang Dynasty society was the end of the classical society. Why can the transformation of Tang and Song Dynasties cause such great repercussions in Japan? One of the very important questions is that there are indeed great social differences between Tang and Song Dynasties. Aristocratic families and large clans collapsed together with the Tang Dynasty. Chinese society really entered a farming society. The scholar-bureaucrat society only started in the Song Dynasty. It is indeed a very important tool to study a Chinese society, family, family, culture and marriage in the period of classical society. When Marx did social analysis, his tools were called class, slave owner class, aristocratic class, peasant class and other classes.

It can be said that Marx used the concept of class, while Mr. Chen Yinque talked more about family, family and marriage. His several papers on the history of Tang Dynasty, Wu Li Wei Yang and Han Yu were all the same. Therefore, Mr. Chen Yinque has come to many conclusions. For example, the difference between aristocrats and commoners lies not in family background but in culture. The difference between northern ethnic minorities lies not in race, not in blood relationship but in culture. Mr. Chen Yinque used these concepts with ease, and these concepts happen to be some concepts that many people are willing to use today. These concepts give people a fresh feeling to explain. Because for a long time under the background of class theory, Under the model of class struggle and the model of confrontation between the two major classes, it is suddenly explained by culture, marriage, family background, aristocracy and commoners, and different marriage groups and intermarriage groups. Of course, it will give people a very unique feeling. “Two Chen in the History Circle”-Mr. Chen Yuan and Mr. Chen Yinque, their respective academic characteristics are very typical. Mr. Chen Yuan generally does not use concepts, but only uses something with theoretical color in “Yuan Xi Yu Ren Hua Hua Kao”. In other aspects, Mr. Chen has his own set. Mr. Chen Yinque was praised as the first person by the western sinology circle before 1949, but that can only be in the western sinology circle. Judging from the actual research results, Mr. Chen Yuan may be a little richer than Mr. Chen Yinque, but judging from his reputation, especially after the end of the “Cultural Revolution”, Mr. Chen Yuan’s status is declining and Mr. Chen Yinque is rising. One of the most important aspects is that Mr. Chen Yinque can belong to the ranks of modern historians. Strictly speaking, Mr. Chen Yuan is the remnant of Ganjia Sinology. He is rarely influenced by modern ideas and basically does not use theoretical tools. Mr. Chen Yinque has read a lot of things. According to Mr. Chen’s self-report, when he was studying in Germany, he read the original version of Das Kapital. Therefore, the quotation of theoretical concepts is very obvious and prominent. If we remember the family, family background, culture and marriage, and look at Mr. Chen Yinque’s things, we will have a new understanding of the class of Marxist historians.

In comparison, there is a different perspective. The reason is that under different theoretical concepts, things often present different sides. Although Chen Yinque must have absorbed some elements of Marx’s class theory in the process of using the concepts of marriage and family background, he did not use this concept to express it, but used more cultural tools to dissect it. These questions will give us great inspiration.

Another example is Mr. Gu Jiegang’s theory of “ancient Chinese history caused by layers of accumulation”, which is referred to as “layer of accumulation”. “Doubting the past” is not a theory, but a tendency and a stand. What really has the function of concept and tool is the “theory of layer accumulation”, which holds that ancient history is superimposed. From the original legend, to different texts, to constantly changing texts, the superposition is bigger and bigger. “Tielei Theory” is the most important conceptual tool of Mr. Gu Jiegang and the School of Ancient History Debate. When talking about Mr. Gu Jiegang, Mr. Yu Yingshi said that he had laid the first cornerstone for modern Chinese history. The reason why Mr. Yu made this evaluation is that the “theory of stratification” is the biggest conceptual tool. The proposal of this concept cut off Mr. Gu Jiegang and Ganjia Sinology at once, although his theories were inspired by Cui Shu. Therefore, Mr. Yu Yingshi added that after Gu Jiegang put forward these slogans, he opened up ways and paths for countless knowledge. You see, around Mr. Gu Jiegang, as long as all the scholars close to Mr. Gu Jiegang have made good achievements, the reason is that he has a very special path, as long as he uses the “layer-by-layer theory” to study what’s problems. Mr. Gu’s research on Meng Jiangnu and others is all an extension of the “layer-by-layer theory”. In 2000, Mr. Jiang Yihua and I held a meeting in Shanghai. At that time, when Chen Yinque’s craze was at its peak, Mr. Chen could be said to be at its peak. However, the two of us reached the same conclusion that Mr. Chen could not catch up with Mr. Gu in terms of academic history. Mr. Gu realized the structural transformation of China from traditional historiography to modern historiography, while Mr. Chen did not. We can see this very clearly. Mr. Gu is a revolutionary figure. We cannot say that Mr. Chen is a revolutionary figure, nor can we say that Mr. Chen’s historiography is a revolutionary historiography. Everyone said that Gu Jiegang had made a historical revolution. There was no problem with this. Among them, the role played by the “layer-by-layer theory” was incalculable.

Other theories, such as evolution. The introduction of evolution theory is a significant revolution in the history of Chinese thought, and the role of Yan Fu’s generation of thinkers is immeasurable. In the past, the Chinese believed that China’s thousands of years of history were either circular or retrogressive, and the golden age was in ancient times. Therefore, the proposal of evolution played a revolutionary role. Of course, evolution has also been challenged now. People have found that many things are not evolved, and human spirit, theory, thought and realm are not evolved. This consensus has been reached in the theoretical circle. Evolution itself has many defects and problems. Human society has evolved at the level of instruments, but it is really hard to say whether it has evolved at the level of spirit. Marx also talked about this issue in his theory. He questioned the evolution of art history. He said that the level of spiritual development is generally compatible with the level of economic development, but this is not the case in some fields and departments, for example, art is not necessarily the case.

In addition, it has become the mainstream in the academic circle to replace the revolutionary history paradigm based on class theory with modernization theory and modernization mode. Originally, the history since 1840 was written as a revolutionary history, but now it can be written as a history of continuous modernization and learning from the West. This historical writing mode began with Mr. Jiang Tingfu. Mr. Jiang’s “Modern Chinese History” is very typical. It describes this period of history completely from the perspective of culture and learning from the West, that is, from the perspective of modernization. In the past, we explained history from the perspective of class, resistance, nation and revolution. However, at present, the contest between the revolutionary history paradigm and the modernization paradigm ends with the modernization paradigm gaining the upper hand. In other words, although revolutionary history is still an essential part of this period of history, the historical writing mode that occupies the mainstream position in academic circles is undoubtedly the modern paradigm.

In the past 30 years, a big theory-civil society theory has been introduced. The concepts of chambers of commerce, business groups and civil society have exerted great influence in the history circle for a period of time. Although this influence soon subsided, because it was difficult to explain the social situation in China with civil society, the introduction of civil society theory did inject new vitality into history within a period of time. In addition, Mr. Zhang Zhongli put forward a concept of “gentry society”. Like Mr. Fei Xiaotong, he is committed to refining concepts from the mainland. A concept like “gentry” can explain a lot of things. These concepts have a great effect on historical research.

As far as I am concerned, some concepts that were not put forward by me can also be used as some guidelines for me to study history. First, I place special emphasis on the concept of “wartime historiography”. Many things can fall into the category of wartime historiography. Why do you emphasize the two opposing classes and regard everything as class struggle? I think contemporary historiography is in a special era of war. After the concept of “wartime historiography” was put forward, I should have continued to follow this concept, but because I was questioned by people, I didn’t want to go against the trend, so this concept has not been further used and deepened since then. However, if the timing is appropriate, the concept of “wartime historiography” can be further extended and further explored. This concept can explain many historical phenomena before 1949. Second, I often use the concept of “pan-political society”. I call the Chinese society from 1949 to 1979 a pan-political society. The use of this concept has brought me great convenience. It can explain why this period of historiography is like this. The changes of historiography in this period are closely related to the pan-political society. The third is the pair of concepts of new historiography and new sinology. Prior to this, the pair of concepts of New Historiography and New Sinology already existed. I specially wrote an article “New Historiography and New Sinology” to describe the evolution clues of historiography in the 20th century through this pair of concepts. It can be said that in order to describe academic changes, we must use concepts, describe historical changes for a long period of time, and give a context to this period of historical theory. We cannot do without concepts or theories. How to describe the history of 20th century historiography? Do I comment on so many historians, articles, works and magazines one by one? Is that history? Like a pile of loose money, I have to find a money string to string it together. Therefore, I used the concepts of new historiography, new sinology, historical materials school, historical view school, or historical materialism school, historical materials textual research school, etc. The use of these concepts has brought me great convenience, enabling me to simplify the picture of historiography to the greatest extent and draw out the most important things.

In addition, there are many concepts, which will be briefly introduced to you. For example, in 1995, Li Zehou and Liu Zaifu put forward the “Farewell to Revolution Theory”, which has exerted great influence on the entire history circle until now. The proposal of a slogan or a concept is often like a beam of light, which can illuminate the darkness. The most typical example is Mr. Li Xueqin’s “Going Out of the Era of Doubting Ancient Times”, which has great influence and is hard to imagine. Although Mr. Li Xueqin has been known to all before, he can quickly reach such a hot level, which is closely related to the concept of “stepping out of the era of doubting the ancient times”.

In 2004, I was invited by Mr. Ikeda to give lectures in Tokyo and often took a walk with Mr. Liu from the Philosophy Department of Nankai University. The two of us once talked about Mr. Li Xueqin. At that time, I made an analogy to him, saying that Mr. Li Xueqin had written a large number of books before that and had not had such a great influence. However, Mr. Li’s proposal in 1992 to “walk out of the era of doubting the ancient times” was like a searchlight, shining on a lot of glass. All the glass was shining brightly and dazzling. He said he understood the meaning. Under the reflection of the concept of “stepping out of the era of doubting the ancient times”, all Mr. Li’s books show different meanings. Before that, I couldn’t find anything to run through all his books. After the concept of “stepping out of the era of doubting the ancient times” was put forward, all Mr. Li’s books were run through. It not only runs through all Mr. Li’s books, but also runs through all the things that criticize Mr. Gu Jiegang.

Therefore, I often say that the concept of “the ancient history of China created by layers” can penetrate everything of Mr. Gu. Although Mr. Gu studied a lot during the Republic of China, This does not mean that he had the highest level at that time, but others did not put forward a concept that enveloped the ancient and modern times, called “the ancient history of China created by layers”. The proposal of such a concept, such a proposition and such a scholarly approach made Mr. Gu occupy an irreplaceable position in the academic history.

Some historians have exerted such a great influence in the field of historiography, which to a certain extent comes from the theories they use and the conceptual tools they use. This is a very big difference between modern historiography and traditional historiography. The theory has the function of what. I can only give these examples. At present, I have not been able to summarize a system from these examples. For example, I can classify it into different categories. Theory can play this role and that role. 123 is still not up to this level. What I am telling you today is all some temporary ideas. I will try to theorize, systematize or even conceptualize these ideas in the future and then provide them to you.


This is the author’s speech on the morning of January 6, 2017 at the 2016 Graduate Class of Chinese History Major in the Institute of Confucianism of Shandong University. Doctoral student Tang Ying converted and sorted out the speech according to the recording. Associate Professor Guo Sinian did some review work and the author made the final revision of the speech.This article is published in Volume 45, No.5, 2019, Ideological Front.

Reprinted from Public Number: Humanities in Colleges and Universities


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